SUN Hockey Pool

Can't break it up

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

The last time Vaughan Rody felt this helpless was probably in his first game as an NHL linesman.

It was an exhibition game in Las Vegas, and Rody, a Winnipegger, found himself between NHL tough guys Stu (The Grim Reaper) Grimson and Scott Parker, a pair of 6-foot-5 heavyweights who had dropped their gloves and were raring to go.

"I looked up at Stu Grimson and thought, 'Oh my gosh ... what the heck am I going to do with this guy?' " Rody was saying from his home near Seattle yesterday.

As Wayne Bonney, his fellow linesman that day, said, "Toto, you're not in Kansas, anymore."

When he looks around today, Rody must wonder where he is, too -- and how things could have gone so wrong.

In a profession where keeping the game under control is job No. 1, Rody and the rest of the NHL's officials can only watch as the league's owners and players engage in an all-out brawl that's lasted seven months and shows no sign of letting up.

"I would never have thought it would come to this," he said. "Never in a million years. There's nothing we can do in this situation. This isn't our fight."

Rody is one of three Manitobans officiating in the NHL. The others are linesman Ryan Galloway of Winnipeg and Stonewall product Rob Martell, a referee.

All three, of course, have stopped receiving paycheques and have no idea when the next one might show up.

And, no, unlike the players, you won't find them pulling on the stripes in the minors or overseas. You see, they decided long ago, as a union, not to take jobs away from lower-level officials.

So they've made like it's overtime of Game 7 and swallowed their whistles. Some are selling cars, or teaching, or installing kitchen cabinets.

Those are the lucky ones.

"There's a lot of guys I work with who are really struggling," Rody said. "We've got some guys that, if it goes on much longer, might lose their homes.

"It affects us huge. Just trying to keep the wolves from the door and make ends meet."

Rody, his wife, Lisa, and their two kids get by on the $1,400/month he gets in unemployment insurance. Plus, Lisa has gone back to work as a loans officer, while Rody has started a business in which he'll help young players and officials train for hockey.

"It just throws our whole lives into disarray a little bit," Rody said. "Obviously, it affects everything. We don't want to deplete the bank account."

'NOT FAIR'

Gee, you think any players have that problem? Or owners, for that matter?

Not likely. Yet, it's the players who've rushed to take jobs elsewhere.

"It has been a financial hit, no doubt about it," said Galloway, in just his second year as a full-time NHL official. "It hasn't been easy. (But) it's not fair for me to go and take a spot from a guy here in Winnipeg who's trying to get to where I am."

Kind of makes you regret all the horrible things you've yelled at the skunk-shirts over the years, doesn't it?

The only one of our three homegrown officials who still lives here, Galloway, 32, could get back into massage therapy, but who's going to hire a guy who can't commit to anything long-term?

Down in Chicago, Martell, 41, spends his time staying in shape, coaching his eight-year-old's team and playing the role of Mr. Mom, allowing his wife to bring home the bacon.

Martell's been blowing the whistle on hockey offenders since he was 13, when he got nine bucks a game reffing in Stonewall.

But here he is, watching two sides exchange blows that will damage the game for years, and there's nothing he can do.

"Sometimes it doesn't matter who's calling the game," Martell said. "If they're set on going at it, they're going to go at it."


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